Clumsy Clara is Killing My Sex Drive
November 16, 2007 5:55 PM   Subscribe

For the past few years, physical intimacy with my wife creeps me out. I think I've figured out why. Now what? (long post follows, sorry!)

Background: We've been married 5 years. It's been great except for physical intimacy (anything beyond holding hands and hugging).

We've known each other since high school, but only dated about a year before we got married. The physical stuff was great (No problems making out, plenty of great sex, etc.) until about 2 years into our marriage. . Then the weirdness set in.

For reasons unknown (besides the usual "honeymoon's over" thing-- no kids, big life changes, extra stressors, etc.), we turned a corner in our physical relationship. Suddenly sex dropped off sharply (once or twice a year, no exaggeration), and she seemed to lose all interest in kissing and foreplay. For the record, I am not an intercourse-only type guy-- kissing and foreplay are their own rewards for me, and I am fine with engaging in them with no expectation of sex.

Through couples counseling, we came to attribute her diminished interest to two main things: she was on a heavy dose of Zoloft (bingo!) and she was raised in a highly stressful environment (constant screaming fights between her parents, a physically abusive brother) where physical affection was almost non-existent.

We're following the shrink's advice (which includes switching to a new medication) about her piece of this puzzle, but through my own soul-searching and being extra attentive to my own feelings, I have come to a troubling realization: I think I am sabotaging her efforts with a hangup of my own.

About the same time she began to "cool down" sexually, I realized (somewhat unconsciously at first) that she has a quirk that I find to be a big turnoff. Although she is a very beautiful woman, she's somewhat awkward, bordering on clumsy.

No, wait--she is clumsy. If there's a liquid-filled glass near her, she will knock it over about 50% of the time. She's constantly bumping into or tripping over things. She even hurts me from time to time with her clumsiness (knocking me in the head with her elbow as she sits down, dropping heavy stuff on my foot, breaking dishes for me to step on). She dances like a robot with a stick up its ass (and no, not because she's trying to do The Robot). When she walks around our house, it's like she's trying to pound holes into the floor with her heels. If it's hot, she will burn herself with it. Her driving is a series of lurches-- either punching the gas or the brake, jerky turns of the wheel, etc. She's also killed a couple of the few close moments we've had by burping into my mouth, coughing in my face, or falling out of bed while shifting positions.

Nothing (that we can determine) is physically wrong with her that would account for her clumsiness. She's just not very graceful or coordinated, and this translates as unsexy at times. A close moment now has me on guard for the clumsy move that's going to ruin it. In fact, it's to the point where kissing her hello or goodbye makes my skin crawl.

I feel really guilty feeling this way. She has a lot more to deal with than I do psychologically, and I feel really petty picking up on something like this. I love this woman to death, and when she's not moving she's a real turn-on physically. But Jesus, if there's a way to do something clumsily, she'll find it. We've acknowledged her lack of physical grace jokingly-- I'm not a dick to her about it or anything-- but my big fear is that she ever works through her own issues regarding our intimacy, I'll be stuck with my own hangup in this department.

I'm no Mikhail Baryshnikov myself, and I don't pretend that my sexual appeal leaves her breathless with desire. But I'd like to think I'm basically the same guy she married (who, I'm assuming, she was attracted to). Realizing how her clumsiness bothers me, though, has me terrified that we're stuck in a gridlock with her (very understandable) issues and mine (not so understandable for me) keeping everything awkward.

I know this sounds like a common marital thing-- you pick up on your mate's idiosyncrasies and they proceed to drive you nuts. But if there's a way to either reduce her clumsiness or mitigate how much it bugs me, it would be one less thing we have to worry about in getting our intimacy back on track. I'd feel really mean bringing this up-- she can't help it, after all-- but I will, preferably in a counseling environment, if it will help.

Any insights into my situation?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Nope, it doesn't sound like a common marital thing.. You're obsessing on this...

time to be honest at the therapist and work on ways to become intimate in a manner that is safe, slow, careful, peaceful, and loving....

I'm suspecting that there is more to this than you are acknowledging or that you are aware of... don't count on this bunch of strangers to figure this out.... back to the therapist !!!
posted by HuronBob at 6:11 PM on November 16, 2007

This may sound sort of silly, but I wonder if your wife wouldn't enjoy taking a belly dance class?

Reading your post, it sounds to me like your wife has issues feeling comfortable in her own body. I would think that the clumsiness and gracelessness is more of an outgrowth of feeling awkward in her body than the cause of it.

I think dance in general is very helpful in learning to dwell in your body, and I think that-- it's difficult to explain, but if you're a woman, sometimes you can be just overly aware of your body, you know? You're walking around, you have these hips and thighs and boobs happening, it becomes this kind of mental event where you're thinking about walking, instead of just feeling yourself walk.

(Men probably have this, too? I have no idea.)

Anyway, I think she might enjoy belly dance. It's an all-female environment, there's lots of ladies with lots of different body types, and it's about learning to control, pretty much, your hips.

I do think that you're sort of obsessing about this, but it's so hard to let go of an obsession without making any other changes. I imagine that if your wife were practicing any kind of physical discipline that emphasizes focus and control (it doesn't have to be dance: it could be yoga or pilates. I just mention belly dance because it's sort of more-connected to female sexuality, what with the hips and whatnot.) there would be small changes in her movement that you could focus on.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 6:16 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can you work on this with the therapist by yourself? I think that's the way to go on this one.
posted by willmize at 6:16 PM on November 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

My husband is like this.

Has she always been this clumsy or could the medication be a factor?

Having said that I second you going over this with a therapist. I suspect you have some bottled up anger issues with her that this clumsiness triggers. (I say this because if you didn't you might find the clumsiness endearing. I didn't, and for the previously mentioned anger issues.)

We worked thru our stuff. Hopefully you will be able to as well.
posted by konolia at 6:21 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think that talking to the therapist sounds ideal. The idea that you were just fine for five years and then suddenly find yourself repulsed by every physical move your wife makes seems...odd. Therapy is a good place to work this out.

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 6:23 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm sure you have already ruled out Huntington's as an actual medical cause of all this.

Can you get her to slow down and do one thing at a time? I'm not being coy here; my son is often klutzy and he also has a processing problem. We have found that if he tries to do two things at once, he will inevitably hurt himself, spill or break something, etc. However, if he focuses on one thing at a time, he's fine. It's pretty unlikely that your wife would have been diagnosed with a processing problem, as it's really hard to get a diagnosis, but I think it's worth mentioning to a therapist.

Also, if you can speak with a therapist alone, in private, and then go together as a couple, the therapist may be able to bring the talk around to the clumsiness problem and help your wife out.

Incidentally, there are other antidepressants with less of an effect on libido than Zoloft, such as Wellbutrin.
posted by misha at 6:37 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think your wife's clumsiness sounds adorable, actually. But that is me.

I suggest taking dance lessons with her. It will help, to take dance lessons or yoga or something that will make her aware of the way her body is moving. You have to take them with her, because you can't tell her the clumsiness is turning you off. Anyway, dance lessons are a great way to get closer to your partner.

As a terrifically clumsy person, I am thankful most people I know look on it with a bemused sort of admiration at how ridiculously not-graceful I can be. If my partner found it creepy, or gross, I would dump them immediately. She's not there to be your graceful swan, ya know.
posted by schroedinger at 6:38 PM on November 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

I know this sounds like a common marital thing-- you pick up on your mate's idiosyncrasies and they proceed to drive you nuts.

This is correct. There are a million guys out there who would happily fuck your wife despite the clumsiness that you're obsessing over. So I would recommend that you simply let that shit go.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:43 PM on November 16, 2007 [4 favorites]

Recommend yoga. Do it together &/or apart. Take a class, then do it on your own.

If that won't bring you back together, or toward some realization that together is not what's best, nothing will. IMHO.

Best of luck.
posted by pammo at 6:57 PM on November 16, 2007

The clumsiness has nothing to do with it. You're angry, and you just picked one thing to get angry at, because you cannot bear to be angry at the entire woman.
posted by markovich at 6:59 PM on November 16, 2007 [18 favorites]

my theory is you have much, much bigger problems with your wife, and you are channeling all of them into this petty clumsiness thing.
posted by timory at 7:00 PM on November 16, 2007

When I was a youngen, I was exceedingly uncoordinated and did years of karate. I'm not Bruce Lee, but it helped a lot with my coordination. Yoga would probably have the same positive effect.

Then, there's the actual marital issue others are discussing where you'll most likely end up finding something else to obsess over.
posted by jmd82 at 7:16 PM on November 16, 2007

Two ideas:

1) Tie her down sometimes she can't hurt you. Of course, if she has trust issues, this may be difficult, but it's an idea. You might also arrange sessions where she holds still voluntarily and only moves when you tell her to.

2) Very simple couple dancing lessons (Waltz?). The movement is ritualized, you can make the approach ritualized, and she'll have to focus on her body. Be careful to be consistent yourself since this will be difficult for her at first. You will need to spend focused time outside of class practicing with her.

You can then work out little "dance" rituals for kissing her goodbye, etc.

Make sure she is completely paying attention to you and her body when you go to kiss her or get close to her. It sounds like she's _not_ aware of where her body is most of the time -- her hands, feet, elbows, etc. She needs to learn to keep track of where everything is. It may be that whatever is causing her intimacy issues has also caused her to separate a bit from her own body, so bringing this issue up in therapy could be good.

It may also be that you can spend some time touching her in a way that will draw her attention to various parts of her body, and make her more aware of them, at least in the moment. This could be a fun part of a comprehensive strategy.

And this is a hard-enough problem that a comprehensive strategy is perhaps called for.

If watching her move is problematic (I think I know someone who moves this way), then that is something you might need to work on yourself. Some people are hard to watch; I think you'd need professional advice on how to deal with this. I honestly don't know.
posted by amtho at 7:22 PM on November 16, 2007

One more thing - While my answer above addresses the clumsiness as a discrete issue that you both can address directly, your use of the phrases "creeps me out" and "makes my skin crawl" do lead one to believe that you don't actually like your wife that much. It may be that these are just clumsy language choices, but it may also be that you really don't like her and this is seeping out unintentionally in your language. I think that's why several of the answers above are talking about you getting therapy, or indicating that you have deeper issues. Only you can know for sure.
posted by amtho at 7:35 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's a common thing. If you obsess over it, there will always be something to obsess about.

Like Optimus said, there are plenty of guys out there who aren't bothered by this, so you're just using this as a placeholder for lots of things you haven't put words to yet.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 7:36 PM on November 16, 2007

I too was going to suggest yoga. It's a fantastic way to slow down the brain and focus on the body.

I have no idea if this will actually cure clumsiness.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:48 PM on November 16, 2007

You don't love her. You don't even like her anymore. You're starting to hate her.
posted by onepapertiger at 8:12 PM on November 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

nthing the therapist. i presume you were together long enough before you got married to notice this, so you're probably channeling your unhappiness with your sex life into displeasure about this aspect of her. sort of like sour grapes--"she's such a klutz, why would i want to have sex with her anyway?"

i don't mean you're doing it consciously, it's probably just a coping mechanism you accidentally developed because you're probably a decent guy and basically didn't want to harp on your wife about sex, which you know will upset her.

talk to a therapist (alone!).
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:14 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I nth the suggestion of talking this out with your therapist.

However, I differ from some other posters in that I don't believe that your wife's clumsiness needs to be "fixed," at least not yet, and yoga or bellydancing or whatever shouldn't be something she feels compelled to do in order to make herself over according to your standards.

The issue, as I see it, is not the clumsiness as much as the fact that now after five years it bothers you. It presumably didn't bother you when you were first married, so why is it bothering you now?

I have to wonder if one of two things might be afoot here: One, you are "getting even" with her after all these years of non-intimacy. Or, perhaps, now that she has adjusted her medications and worked through her sexual issues and now is ready for more intimacy, YOU are the one who really doesn't want to be intimate and YOU are pushing her away. Perhaps the sexless status quo suited you on some level?

Either way, I would not try to "fix" her physical issues. I would delve into therapy to figure out why this is bothering you now, coincidentally (or not?) after she gets over her intimacy hurdles.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:21 PM on November 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

There is a reason why they call contempt one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse for a relationship and your post just screams that you have contempt for her. I can tell you don't want to have contempt for her and you want to save this, but you are utterly picking her apart and I just have to believe she can sense it on some level.

I don't know what I think about all the suggestions for her to try yoga or dance lessons. First, I think she could turn into a professional ballet dancer overnight and you would find something else about her to pick apart because part of you is very very angry at her, but you don't feel you have a right to actually be angry so you are latching onto her minor imperfections. Secondly, I'm a very clumsy person, I almost always have bruises all over my legs from bumping into things, I'm also a really good dancer and a former gymnast. I really think I'm clumsy just because I don't pay attention enough and am often in my own head. I don't think being clumsy is necessarily a matter of physical ability.

I don't have any really great advice for you other than you need to realize this has zero to do with her clumsiness. Your wife stopped having sex with you, that had to hurt like hell on a lot of levels. Yes, she was going through a lot, you realize that and that's legitimate, but that doesn't mean it didn't hurt you like hell and you're angry about it. You said that kissing her makes your skin crawl, what does that possibly have to do with her clumsiness? You know this isn't because she is clumsy.

I don't think you are a bad guy, but you are obviously very upset and instead of dealing with those feelings you are channeling it into this obsession with her being clumsy. My guess is that you don't feel that you can be angry about how her emotional problems and lack of sex drive is affecting you, because you feel that would be selfish and unloving of you, so instead you get mad at her because she drops a dish or she brakes a little to hard or she doesn't glide through the house like a woodland nymph. Basically, you need to sit down and figure out what you are really upset about without any of the guilt that you shouldn't feel this way or that way and then once you've figured that out try to go from there.
posted by whoaali at 8:24 PM on November 16, 2007 [5 favorites]

The clumsiness has nothing to do with it. You're angry, and you just picked one thing to get angry at, because you cannot bear to be angry at the entire woman.
posted by markovich at 8:59 PM on November 16 [6 favorites -] Favorite added! [!]

my theory is you have much, much bigger problems with your wife, and you are channeling all of them into this petty clumsiness thing.
posted by timory at 9:00 PM on November 16 [+] [!]

Bingo! The clumsiness has absolutely nothing to do with it. Get some therapy and good luck.
posted by LarryC at 8:29 PM on November 16, 2007

Another guy who is totally not bothered by this. I think you are allowing an unhealthy fixation to develop. Maybe this is your secret get-out-of-jail-free card or something, in case everything that's wrong with her is fixed you can still reject her for this. This, from your question, is what's driving me to that uncharitable interpretation:

A close moment now has me on guard for the clumsy move that's going to ruin it. In fact, it's to the point where kissing her hello or goodbye makes my skin crawl.

That seems like you've allowed the fixation to develop to a point of overriding anything else. So she's clumsy sometimes. Does that really mean you can't enjoy a close moment with your wife just in case she does something clumsy? You control your emotional reactions to things. You don't have to choose to be on guard like a robot, denying yourself a vulnerable close moment at all times just because she's clumsy sometimes. What's the worst that could happen? Her clumsiness isn't going to kill you. She's not going to accidentally bite off your tongue or your dick. She burped in your mouth when you were kissing? Big deal!

If it's not really about your own escapism, then you've simply let an unhealthy fixation, which developed when your relationship with her was in a bit of a wasteland, go on for too long. Snap out of it. You're the only person making your skin crawl.
posted by evariste at 8:33 PM on November 16, 2007

This isn't something he can just snap out of, people.

Show a little compassion.
posted by konolia at 8:39 PM on November 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

I don't know how to help anyone how to fall in love again with a person they've grown distant from -- besides telling you to fight like hell to reconnect to her, and help her reconnect to herself. Your therapy is good, but don't forget to walk with her, take her dancing, speak kindly to her, and never permit her to see your disgust or make her feel shame about herself. But you already know all that, don't you? So instead, I'll give you this.

Love Poem
John Frederick Nims

My clumsiest dear, whose hands shipwreck vases,
At whose quick touch all glasses chip and ring,
Whose palms are bulls in china, burs in linen,
And have no cunning with any soft thing,

Except all ill-at-ease fidgeting people:
The refugee uncertain at the door,
You make at home: deftly you steady
The drunk clambering on his undulant floor.

Unpredictable dear, the taxi driver's terror,
Shrinking from far headlights pale as a dime
Yet leaping before red apoplectic streetcars--
Misfit in any space. And never on time.

A wrench in clocks and the solar system. Only
With words and people and love you move at ease,
In traffic of wit expertly maneuver
And keep us, all devotion, at your knees.

Forgetting your coffee staining our flannel,
Your lipstick spreading on our coat,
So gaily in love's unbreakable heaven
Our souls on glory of spilt bourbon float.

Be with me darling, early and late. Smash glasses--
I will study wry music for your sake.
For should your hands drop white and empty
All the toys of the world would break.
posted by melissa may at 8:48 PM on November 16, 2007 [43 favorites]

You're right, konolia, that wasn't very compassionate. And "snap out of it" isn't much of an answer. But I still believe the way he chooses to react is still well within his control. This isn't some involuntary reaction like when you smell spoiled food. If he's really literally creeped out when his wife tries to kiss him, because of the possibility that she might do something clumsy, that seems a bit much to me. It seems like the sort of reaction you have to nurse and cultivate.
posted by evariste at 8:55 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm a clumsy chick who would be absolutely livid if my partner passive aggressively tried to have me take ballroom dancing or yoga with him for the sole purpose of pleasing him by changing my behavior. I would feel really picked on if my partner suggested this. I would wonder how my partner would feel if I turned the tables on him and began criticizing some of his human frailties and flaws.
posted by pluckysparrow at 10:05 PM on November 16, 2007

I am a clumsy person. I become clumsier when I am nervous. I become even clumsier when I am around people who make me nervous, who seem to be watching me very closely and scrutinizing me critically, etc. Other people have said that perhaps her clumsiness isn't the real problem and that the issue runs a lot deeper than this; I think I'd agree (based on what you've said here anyway)... but just to address the clumsiness anyway - perhaps she senses your growing 'hangup' and this exacerbates her clumsiness?
I tend to become a lot less clumsy after I've had a drink or two; it helps me to relax and, uh, stop worrying (as much) about what people think of me or whether they are watching me, etc. So I'm actually more coordinated with some alcohol in me.

Maybe she'd be less clumsy if you made her feel more at ease with herself around you, and more loved regardless of whether she's clumsy or not...
posted by aielen at 10:28 PM on November 16, 2007 [3 favorites]

I could not agree with aielen more.
posted by evariste at 10:31 PM on November 16, 2007

My wife is a classically trained ballet dancer. She is also the clumsiest person I have ever met. I don't know how this relates, but it bug the hell out of me.
posted by sanka at 10:54 PM on November 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

i'm at the point where my wife's little quirks bug the shit outta me. it repulses me, too. it is possible to be in love and not love every aspect of the person youre with.
posted by Davaal at 2:39 AM on November 17, 2007

I am not a clumsy person. I do, however, have a low pain threshold, and I'm very pain-avoidant as a result.

After a while, I flinch from people I know are clumsy when they come close. I have removed people from the I-want-to-date-them list because they are clumsy, because physical intimacy was just too consistently physically painful for me to maintain any sort of attraction.

One of my main sexual attractions, oddly enough, is grace. A guy who moves gracefully is, for me, an amazingly fascinating thing to watch.

On this level, I can understand where you are coming from. I know I sound cold-hearted and whatnot - but to me, it really *is* that important.

However - for me, this has been a lifelong constant. I just don't like clumsy people. For you, it seems as though it's a sudden-onset thing. Did she suddenly become clumsy? Or did it suddenly become irritating that she was clumsy? Either way, there's something fishy here.

I know well that when one is angry at someone, it becomes much easier to be angry at a seemingly otherwise minor attribute, mannerism, or behaviour. I'd say have it checked out in therapy first, then address physical therapy, if you both feel it would benefit your relationship.
posted by ysabet at 2:47 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was married to a beautiful, sexy, but very clumsy woman. She is also tall (5' 9") and big (180 lbs). But she has very small, weak hands, and very poor touch sense for most of the world. Because of long practice, she was a very fast typist, but beyond that, her relationship with the physical world was a daily disaster, the whole length of our relationship, and it eventually became a point between us, for many reasons. She routinely had bruises on her arms and legs, to the point where her friends thought I beat her. She broke 2 of my ribs, falling into me, one day when were doing yard work (it's pretty hard to break someone else's ribs, but she caught me with the back of her elbow, falling through some shrubs, while I was kneeling and weeding). She lost control of a bed frame rail she was storing in the garage, and brained me, opening a 2 inch gash in my scalp, that took 10 staples to close. She dropped heavy things on my hands and feet, on a number of occasions. She knocked stuff off counters, all the time. She sprained her ankles frequently, and her knees occasionally. At work, people gave her a wide berth, regularly.

She could not, apparently, learn not to do these things. And to top it all off, she was left handed in a right handed world, so that her life was the series of constant sinistral adaptations to mechanisms and processes that left handed people come to know as normal.

Eventually, after she broke my nose once while making love (her head smashed the bridge of my nose, accidentally, I'm sure), and badly strained a sensitive part of my anatomy over my screaming protests another time, I came to fear her presence, viscerally. She was always really sorry, but eventually, no amount of sorry is sorry enough, if it keeps on happening.

Look, I understand and live with clumsiness. My mentally disabled brother falls down and breaks stuff regularly, partly due to his condition, exacerbated by psych meds. My younger son was a klutz as a kid, and a 6' 5" klutz as a grown man, but he turned it to advantage early in his adulthood, by becoming a demolition expert. Now that he's studying to be a pharmacist, I'm in fear for his future customers, big time.

Having been where anonymous is, maritally, all I can say is, you either have to find a way to accept clumsiness, or you can't. If an absence of grace begins to seem paramount in your physical relationship with your wife, and you can't put it aside, at least be clear with her and yourself that this is a real problem, from your side. There may not be anything she can or will do about it, but don't let your learned response to her graceless physicality be taken as something far more hurtful than it is, although even at face value (feminine grace being the generally greater virtue it is than the same measure of balance might be for a man) it is likely to be a hurtful realization to her. It's very difficult to feel intimate with someone, when you're necessarily needing to remain poised to duck quickly. Intimacy, in my experience, seems to require trust and relaxation, at a minimum, which attitudes can contribute to greater pain, for those trying to be intimate with clumsy people.
posted by paulsc at 4:43 AM on November 17, 2007 [3 favorites]

So many good and helpful thoughts here.

Just wanted to put in another word on yoga. My suggestion wasn't so much for the sake of increasing your partner's grace, but for the use of yoga as a practice to do together, a spiritual as well as physical practice of tuning into the body - the breath, especially, and alignment, the way energy moves through the body in various ways. Doing this together at home can be quite enlightening and help you break down barriers to intimacy. No need to take a class. You can watch a video. No agenda, other than something to try together.

I think you each would discover pretty quickly where the problem really lies. It's worked that way for me anyway. As always, YMMV. Best of luck.
posted by pammo at 4:59 AM on November 17, 2007

I've noticed (based on a tiny sample) that people raised in tense family environments like you describe are often clumsy and (mind reading on top of statistical over reaching) the less secure they feel, the clumsier they get. They are too caught up bracing for an anticipated attack to pay attention to their present circumstances. Unfortunately, if that is the case, your discomfort at her clumsiness is probably part of a vicious cycle. It is likely that her periods of clumsiness are exactly when your affection would be most helpful to her. I would look for a correlation between her becoming tense and her acts of clumsiness. If I found one, I would try to show her lots of love whenever I noticed her getting tense, and show her even more when she calmed down.

I know someone who does tai chi in order to address this issue. It's well suited, because it is specifically designed to teach you to relax and pay attention to your body while moving (an advantage over most forms of yoga, for this purpose.)
posted by Coventry at 5:57 AM on November 17, 2007

If it bothers her as well, and she wants to change her clumsiness habit, she might consider hypnotherapy. It can work on much harder problems than clumsiness.
posted by blueyellow at 7:21 AM on November 17, 2007

I agree with all the people who have said that you're fixation on her clumsiness is just covering for a deeper issue that you really need to work out.

That said, if she wants to address her clumsiness, dancing or martial arts would go a long way. I've always been a klutz, but at 35 got into something that has made me, if not graceful, at least a lot more aware of my body's relation to the rest of the world.

But even if she solves her awkwardness, you'll find something else to fixate on (like, say, the hair on her arms, or the fact that her toes spread really far apart, or the frequency with which she puts her hair in a ponytail) unless you attack the underlying issues.
posted by adamrice at 7:44 AM on November 17, 2007

My SO is a total klutz but I find her sexy as hell. That's love for ya.
posted by brautigan at 8:16 AM on November 17, 2007

I am clumsy. Very. In fact, I don't just fall DOWN stairs, I fall UP them, too. I trip over things that don't exist. I have so many burn scars from the oven, and once, I managed to burn my STOMACH on the clothing iron. Once, I somehow managed to get my feet caught in the shower curtain liner and fell OUT of the shower (bathtub/shower combo) and on to my head outside the tub with my feet in the air, tied up in the curtain. Dancing, yeah, robot with a pole up the ass sounds like my groove style.

Now, unlike your wife, I would never burp in someone's mouth, that is just disgusting not clumsy, but otherwise, I'm a lot like her. And there is no reason for it, it is just the way I am. Yoga, ballet, bellydancing, coordination-activities like walking on a balance beam, etc. NOTHING changes it. It is just me. You have to stop looking at it as something your wife can change, she can't. And you are acting like a selfish jerk for judging her and even thinking that she should set herself up for failure while trying to change this unchangeable quirk. This is your hang-up, something she can't change. You need to change the way you see her.

That being said, I think onepapertiger is right on the money.
posted by necessitas at 9:13 AM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

You should read this and see if it rings any bells for you (it is written from the perspective of a women, but that chapter especially applies to everyone).
posted by anaelith at 9:37 AM on November 17, 2007

Huh - I see you've met me and my wife ;-)

Actually we are both clumsy. I have a real problem dealing with anything that has an edge - I WILL cut myself, if it is hot I WILL burn myself. My wife falls down at the drop of the hat - and then breaks/sprains/injures something.

And - your description of her driving (lurching) made me laugh out loud - it was one of my biggest peeves.

However - while we came close to divorce - we learned to laugh at ourselves and slowly fall back together again - it may not be "head-over-heels-love", but it works.
posted by jkaczor at 9:50 AM on November 17, 2007

Anonymous, it sounds like therapy and maybe even medication for YOU might be in order. This is a strange obsession that could be an excuse for anger, etc., but could also be bordering on a disorder of your own. It's possible that you were annoyed at a lot of things going on in your relationship, and you fixated on this thing, and now you're stuck in a rut with it. Therapy and medication are perfect things for getting out of a rut. This may apply even if it is anger that you are stuck on - that can still be a type of unhealthy obsession. If everything else in your relationship seems to be going well and it seems like salvaging, do everything you can to get yourself out of that rut. A lot of people have anger/anxiety issues that don't manifest in "normal" ways, and without help, they can become debilitating.

For a while I thought I was going to have to break up with a boyfriend because he never answered his cell phone - that's how crazy it drove me. Then I realized it was at least partly my own problem and my own obsession, and worked on addressing that. It helped, a lot.

For the record, I would never, EVER mention this to your wife. There is nothing she can do about it (no amount of yoga or dancing lessons are going to help - clumsiness is much more about absentmindedness than anything else), and it will make her painfully self-conscious and probably even clumsier.
posted by walla at 11:24 AM on November 17, 2007

Man, this is depressing. Add clumsy to the list of things a woman's not allowed to be.

I'm an extremely clumsy woman myself so I may be biased, but I agree with nearly everyone else that this is a YP, not an HP. She may or may not be willing and able to become more graceful, I don't think it matters. You need to see a shrink to find out why you've suddenly become so intolerant of her.

I do know what's it's like to suddenly be irritated by a loved one all the time. Sometimes I'll have a friend stay for a few days than all of a sudden they're driving me crazy. I also felt like this a lot about my parents and brothers while I was in high school, but even then I realized it was me being irritable - not them being irritating - that was the problem.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:29 AM on November 17, 2007

It is distinctly possible that she can't do any better. I saw a phrase on the internet a few years ago, "physically dyslexic". I figure I have that. I have been exposed to dance, yoga, whatever, and I am just incapable of anything better. If it's that big a deal to you, then DTMFA, because it's likely she can't do any better than this and to be fair, you should free her up to find someone who doesn't really care about about a minor abnormality she can't do anything about. Would you divorce her over a birthmark?

I once had a partner who who was physically clumsy in everday life, and in bed, he was like a ballet dancer. It seemed a charming idiosynchracy at the time, and HMMV.

If this is that big a deal to you, I can't help but think you might have other issues you are channeling into this. If you find her that distasteful. then free her to find someone who really doesn't give a shit. It's your problem; not hers.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 1:01 PM on November 17, 2007

posted by unrepentanthippie at 1:03 PM on November 17, 2007

I sympathize with you, anonymous.

I'm a woman, and at one point I was seeing someone briefly who in many ways was a great guy -- but he was clumsy, clumsy to the point of accidentally hurting me several times, and not a great driver either. Not wanting to be near someone who would injure me accidentally, and potentially seriously hurt me out of clumsiness, was a big factor (but far from the only reason) in why that's in the past, but it was also a real turnoff to me. Over time, the small clumsy things, like knocking things off tables at home and getting food on himself eating out at a nice restaurant, served to remind me of the bigger clumsy things, one of which I still have a scar on my leg from.

If this clumsiness is a new behavior for your wife, you need to help her get it checked out, and help her with whatever is causing this. There could be a medical reason, even something as simple as needing new glasses or an ear infection. Maybe it's a side effect of this new medication. If everything checks out medically, then talk to the psychiatrist.

If she's done this all along, you need to look in yourself at why it's bothering you now, when it didn't before. This is not a throwaway line -- do this.

If this is a dealbreaker for you, I think this is the sort of thing that people can change at least a little bit about themselves if they really want to and have someone that can help them change these behaviors. The trick is finding the right person to teach them new behaviors. Dance and yoga classes will help a bit. I think bellydance with a good teacher who will encourage her to get in touch with her body would be great for this. Private lessons with the right teacher would help her learn to walk more softly, and probably forestall future foot pain for her. I don't think that partner dance classes will be as helpful, because she needs to be relating to her own body, not learning to have you lead her in movement. I don't know how you can get her to do these things without it being an icky thing that she's only doing to fix her husband not being attracted to her, which probably won't be a helpful attitude.

I know it's not 'nice' to suggest that she change, but if you can't get past this, she deserves a chance to change before you end things with her. Everyone's got their dealbreakers, and they don't always make sense to other people. If I was in a relationship with someone who thought I was great, except for one little thing that I had the power to change about myself, and changing that would make my partner very happy, I'd want the chance to decide whether that was something I'd be willing to change about myself.
posted by yohko at 1:12 PM on November 17, 2007

I feel really petty picking up on something like this.

That's because you are being really petty. Whatever her mental health and dexterity issues are, your attitude isn't helping.

...and I don't pretend that my sexual appeal leaves her breathless with desire.

Do you think this could be the problem? Are you simply hurt and angry about the lull in your sexual life? Is her rejection making you so insecure that you're venting your anger toward her clumsiness?
posted by 26.2 at 2:19 PM on November 17, 2007

This may not be helpful now but if you ever get to the point where you'd like to watch (alone, I think) a dark but sweet movie about falling in love with the clumsy, consider A New Leaf with Walter Mathhau and an amazing Elaine May.
posted by Morrigan at 2:39 PM on November 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Data point: some people tend to grow in a relatively short time span. One of my brothers witnessed my growth spurt and tended to comment on incidents where my arm was longer than I expected and objects ended in grief. I am clumsy now only (mostly?) in his company. I agree that if your wife is aware that you find her clumsy, the situation will be exacerbated.
posted by Morrigan at 2:55 PM on November 17, 2007

Whatever you do, don't try to get her to change something that was never an issue in your relationship to begin with.
If she had taken up smoking and that really physically turned you off, that would be one thing. But this? Something that was always part of her make-up?? WTF?
I'd say her instincts are already telling her where your heart lies. It may be one of the reasons she's taking Zoloft.

I was in your wife's postion in that the things that my SO found charming and beguiling at the beginning of a relationship, soon became annoying. The thing is we can generally spot the signs. Men are not terribly subtle when they are annoyed and he became more and more emotionally distant.
It completely undermined my self esteem and self confidence and I reacted by becoming insecure and clingy, something I detest when I see other women doing it. It was heartbreaking but such a relief to end that relationship. I may be projecting (I think we all are to an extent) but she really deserves better. There are challenges in every relationship and the quality of the relationship is directly proportionate to the quality of effort you put into resolving this. You can try a variety of approaches to obsess less or you can be honest and admit your feelings towards her have changed to the extent you are using this as a excuse.
posted by Wilder at 2:02 AM on November 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

Is she sleeping enough? I notice that when I am working (and therefore not getting enough sleep) I can be pretty clumsy. When I am on a break or vacation, I am less clumsy. I read recently that getting five hours of sleep per night is the equivalent of having two drinks in terms of motor impairment.

On the other hand the fact that this is annoying you so much is probably a sign of underlying resentment for her, because she is not fulfilling your needs for physical intimacy.

You either need to find a way to get past your resentment and learn to get excited about your relationship again, or you need to end it.
posted by mai at 11:54 AM on November 18, 2007

My boyfriend is like this. Also, he's twice my size, so it goes from being a cute quirk to physically uncomfortable very quickly. If we're irritated with each other, suddenly his clumsiness becomes the most important thing in the world.

About spilling things: instead of filling a glass with water, I put my drinks in a Nalgene and screw the cap down when he's around. He drinks a lot of tea, so his tea is served in the chunkiest, heaviest mug I could buy. Most times I serve up his food in a giant bowl rather than on a plate. He's happy because it holds more, I'm happy because I spend less time cleaning up. So apart from wine glasses, that's spillage sorted. Yes, it's treating him like a toddler, but that's better than sniping at him all the time.

About dealing with it: find things she is good at where coarse physicality is a strength, not a drawback. It irritates me that my boyfriend is clumsy, but he's also strong and so we go hillwalking and camping a lot. I came to respect the fact that he's great at dragging heavy things around, sailing, climbing, and dragging even more heavy things around. So he doesn't have much finesse? That will just have to be my contribution! It's become something I love about him, and helps balance the fact that when he comes down the stairs, the glass rattles in the windows.
posted by methylsalicylate at 5:12 AM on November 19, 2007

Anonymous, I'm really sorry you had so many negative posts. I'm afraid of sex now because my last 2 boyfriends were such utter klutzes in bed. However, I put up with them for a while before I realized what an absolute dealbreaker it was. Some things you can deal with for a short time, but when you realize that it's going to be like this your whole life, it can become overwhelming. There is nothing more sensual than coordination. Your wife can be as klutzy as she likes when you're not around. When you're around, is it really that hard to enjoy moving more slowly and gracefully? Won't it make her feel better about herself? Won't she feel good that she's not hurting you???!!

However, I'm not saying it's her fault. But instead of feeling angry, try to give her praise whenever she does something gracefully. (touches you softly, etc.) On the other hand, if she ever feels shaky, unbalanced, faint etc. she could be suffering from something like low blood sugar, adrenal exhaustion, candidiasis, PMS, anemia etc., or a reaction to her medication, or 2 or more of these issues, or something else entirely. When you think about it, is she only clumsy certain times of the month? Or only when she doesn't feel good, such as when she hasn't eaten for a few hours? You may need to find a more wholistic doctor in order to figure these things out. Good luck to both of you.
posted by serena15221 at 6:37 PM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Look into your own perfectionistic tendencies. Sounds like things "must" be right for you. Work on that with cognitive behavioral therapy.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:50 AM on November 20, 2007

Jincy Willett had a beautiful short story called Melinda Falling, and it's the first thing I think of when I think of clumsy women and love. However, it does seem that issues you have with the clumsiness are indicative of other things, not just that physical attribute, although the various ineptitudes may exacerbate the matter.
posted by redsparkler at 6:13 PM on May 5, 2008

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